Professional sportsmen are very easy to read, when the going is good, they are wonderfully charming and the picture of humility. But as soon as results begin to go against them, the mask begins to fall quite quickly, and the cattiness comes pouring out.
We shouldn’t resent them for this, life at the summit of professional sport is a pressurised environment that demands a pound of flesh from the globe’s most talented athletes.
Out of all of them, however, there probably isn’t a sport that is as emotionally charged as Formula 1. The stakes are exceptionally high, and it is a genuine matter of life and death on the track as they fly around the various circuits of the world at well over 200 mph.
With so much on the line, a driver needs to be entirely focused on the job at hand, which is why mind games are such a common practice between drivers in Formula 1. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’ve already seen them deployed this season.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 22, 2021
Indeed, after Max Verstappen raced into a lead in the drivers' championship by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, he sought to remind Lewis Hamilton that ‘actions speak louder than words.’
The young Dutchman was of course referring to Hamilton's comments earlier in the week when he spoke of Verstappen’s determination to win by saying: "I think perhaps he feels he has a lot to prove. I'm not necessarily in the same boat there, which is ultimately why I have the stats that I have.”
The irony is that by taking the time to say this, Hamilton has shown that Verstappen has got under his skin. This makes a marked difference from the 36-year-old veteran driver’s zen-like state of mind that he has exhibited over the past few seasons when the sailing has been all too plain.
Interestingly, when you consider that Hamilton is still the favourite to win the drivers championship after being priced at 8/13 in the latest F1 betting markets, you do wonder why he felt the need to get involved in the spat by speaking about Verstappen.
Indeed, we’re seeing Hamilton return to a tactic of speaking about his fellow drivers publicly as we did during Nico Rosberg’s title-winning year in 2016.
The Englishman had a ferocious rivalry with the German that resulted in Rosberg retiring from the sport a week after winning the championship in Abu Dhabi. Rosberg was only 31 at the time but he insisted that fulfilling his childhood dream was enough to make him retire in peace.
Although one can imagine that the toll that the head-to-head with Hamilton took was enough to make him consider whether it was worth it in the end.
Positive vibes only⚡️ pic.twitter.com/SFSd3Bm5dt
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 18, 2021
This is something that young Max Verstappen is going to have to deal with now and although the dynamic is different, as the Dutchman isn’t on the same team as Hamilton, as Rosberg was, it won’t be any easier to overcome.
If anything, Hamilton can afford to be a lot more aggressive towards the 23-year-old, both on the track and off it. This is just the start of the latest enthralling F1 rivalry.